The Future is Hybrid, Part IV

The Hybrid Life

Several months ago, I wrote a series of letters to you about the Hybrid future of education. These letters were focused, for the most part, on how education could benefit from learning the (good) lessons from the pandemic to teach better in the future. Since I wrote those letters to you, I have been thinking about the ways in which we are increasingly living a more hybrid life.

In the last two weeks I shared with you some of my thoughts about Remote Work, and how the workplace is changing in significant ways - at least for knowledge workers. Since most adults spend much of their waking hours at work, this is tremendously important, and will have wide impact for at least the rest of the decade.

What I want to offer today is to examine where these two trends intersect - for lack of a better term - in the Hybrid Life. The emerging reality from the last 18 months indicates that we will be living more of our lives in a hybrid format. And that is probably mostly to the good, but I would like to explain why I think that.

In 2000, Robert Putnam wrote an important book called Bowling Alone. In it, Putnam showed (with data) how civic engagement has been declining since 1950, and argued that this decline was gradually undermining our democracy. He looked at the decline in church membership and civic organizations, such as Rotary, Kiwanis, the League of Women Voters, and the PTAs in towns across America. These were organizations that enriched our communities, he argued, and built social capital. With the decline of these organizations, we have lost social capital and become more polarized around issues. Technology has, he argued, facilitated much of this shift but - he noted - so have demographic trends, such as more women in the workforce, less time to be involved because of increased commutes, greater work expectations, and the higher rates of people moving for jobs. Putnam would, I suspect, not be surprised by the current social polarization and degradation of democratic norms that we are seeing today. He pretty much predicted it.

But there is hope, and the pandemic has shown us the way. Let’s say there is an organization, or a group at your church, that you want to be join but you can’t find the time. (Sound familiar?) Or, you are trying it out, and don’t want to make the full-time commitment yet. If the future is hybrid in education (as I have said), I believe it should be hybrid everywhere else (that it can be).

Many churches have discovered that to keep their worship services going during the pandemic, they needed to offer them up on the internet. New cameras and microphones were purchased, and that was done. It is an extra layer of work for (typically) an already overworked staff. But they discovered it was doable. And for many churches, it kept the flock together - not for a little while, but for more than a year. And now a world of possibilities opens up. Parishioners will attend in person, but the growth may come from service attendance online. Some will attend in person sometimes, and online others. But in church lingo, it opens up a whole new venue for keeping the flock involved, but also for evangelism - to bring new members in.

Of course, many churches figured this out long ago - well before the pandemic: the Christian “Mega” churches, some of whom found large audiences on TV. But ultimately, there were not many of those, and sometimes you were some distance from them, and might never set foot in that church. But now, the connection between the church and the parishioner becomes less dependent on physical presence every Sunday, and involvement becomes more permeable. And even joining a group within the church becomes easier, and with a lower barrier to entry. If you can still join that group, but every meeting is both in-person and online (with proper cameras and microphones), you are more likely to be able to fit it into your busy life. Particularly now, since we will be working remotely more often, and more used to participating in this way. The same is true for Rotary, Kiwanis, and the PTA. All of them need to offer hybrid options, and yes, continue them after the pandemic has passed.

And then, we live the hybrid life. We work from home most days, we attend our child’s soccer game in-person (now that we have time for that), and we have family dinner - but then… we join a group at our church - or chair a committee meeting for the local Rotary club - some attending in person, and some on Zoom. But on Saturday, we play a golf game with friends, and that night, attend a live concert, but remotely - at home.

So to be clear, what I am suggesting is this: that the combination of Remote Work and the greater flexibility it affords, and the level of technology acceptance we have now, everything that can needs to offer a hybrid option. Doing so, over time, will bring more people into civic engagement, and that might just reverse some of the ill-effects of bowling alone.


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Letters of Recommendation

My recommendation this week is the book mentioned above: Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, by Robert Putnam. It is twenty years old now, but perhaps even more relevant than when it was written.


Q of the Week

The Q of the Week this week is a Quote from Henry David Thoreau:

If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs—is more elastic, more starry, more immortal—that is your success.